Columnist: A mother’s worry about football
It was not difficult to fall in platonic love, especially when I was a 13-year-old girl and my neighbor was an attractive football player in high school.
But in fact, I was in love with the football uniform because it is one of the most exciting and attractive sports; I just wanted to have a picture of me hugging a smiling football player. My dream came true when I was well into my 40s and my son gave me the thrill I so dearly desired.
Football is almost magical, and players are impressive, strong and invincible in their uniforms. But sadly, in the middle of the game, they are not.
The recent release of the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith, who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) presents a frightening picture of the brutal effects of the game.
Based on true events, this movie is breathtakingly graphic, objective and not fun at all to watch; it invites us to reflect on all matters relating to the impact of the game and the health and well-being of those who play.
One of the strongest statements of this movie is “tell the truth,” a moment when Omalu urges an NFL doctor to publicize what research has revealed, the effects created in the brain by the brutality and violence of the game. A scene that drew my attention was about the fact that if mothers understand the real danger to which their children are exposed, football could end.
My son started playing football when he was in middle school, and I lived hours of anguish after every collision, when he would return home with bruises. During games and practice, the sound of crashing helmets was always nerve-wracking. I used to worry a lot thinking about what happened to all the players’ brains, especially my son’s.
So my husband and I were devoted to finding all the equipment that could provide greater protection, in addition to what the school provided. We could not afford to buy a high-quality helmet, but later we learned that even the best helmet is no guarantee against a head or brain injury.
I cannot deny that I was feeling like a bad mother and ignorant for allowing my child to play, but how can you stop a mother who is concerned about the safety of her child on the field?
So I came around to openly urging my son not to play. During his senior year in high school my son held his last conversation with his coach. He would not play anymore. The coach asked him, “It was your mom, right?” I must confess that indeed it was me, Coach. I respect your position, but I was afraid that something could happen to my son.
In early 2014 Barack Obama said, “I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.” I regard his opinion not because he is the president of the United States but because he has access to much relevant information.
Months later, in its September issue, Time magazine published on its cover photo to 16-year-old Chad Stover, a defensive back at Tipton High School in Missouri who died due to a traumatic brain injury. The title says: “He died playing this game” and “Is football worth it?” Time also published a painful statement from his mother, Amy Stover: “When he walked out the door to play football that day, it did not cross my mind that I would not see him come off that field.” This article convinced me that football involves many risks, including the loss of life.
At this point there is much evidence of the short- and long-term effects of the game; USA Today published a note this month referring to Rob Lytle, a former Broncos running back. It stated, “After Lytle died of a heart attack in November 2010, an autopsy revealed he had moderate to severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Doctors told his wife, Tracy Lytle, they have no idea how her husband had been able to hold a job and estimated he would not have been able to feed himself in another six months.”
The excitement of the Super Bowl 50 still resonates in Colorado.
It is a fact — football offers a kind of delightful magic, it is visually attractive due to the strategy involved. And we must admit that the force of tradition, the popularity that surrounds it, the desire to become a hero like all great players make its marketing majestic.
I think of this topic as an ecosystem of hope if we as parents do a little research and assess the pros and cons of the game and most of all if we really want this for our children. There are many resources such as the Brain Injury Research Institute website at http://www.protectthebrain.org/.
Science-based knowledge expands horizons, and perhaps gives parents concerned about the future of our children the foundation to reconsider the game itself.
Above all, we must heed our paternal instinct. If we sense a risk or danger, we should move our family away from it. It’s our right.
Eloisa Duarte, an active volunteer, has a degree in communications and a passion for education. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column normally appears on the third Thursday of each month on the community pages but we chose to run this one on the opinion page.
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